On the outlawing of Agora. “In a totalitarian country, there is no such thing as a free legal profession” 

19 June 2023

What Agora, which the General Prosecutor’s Office has deemed an undesirable organization, is remembered for and what Russians are saying about that

Source: Govorit NeMoskva

The lead story yesterday was the recognition of the Agora human rights group as an undesirable organization. In the opinion of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Agora presents a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order because it stresses shedding light on violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms and also renders legal aid to “oppositionists with a marked anti-Russian position.”

On one hand, the officials’ formulation provoked a hail of criticism and jokes in Russian society; on the other, it made one think about the defence of the lawyers themselves, who have now been told openly that they cannot defend everyone.

What Agora is remembered for and how Russians are reacting to its new status—in a round-up by NeMoskva.

What Agora is famous for

Agora, an interregional human rights association, appeared in April 2005. From its first days, it specialized in rendering legal aid to citizen activists who had suffered from illegal actions by law enforcement agency operatives.

One of Agora’s highest-profile victories was the conviction of 17 employees of the penal colony in Kopeisk who took part in the beating and murder of convicts in 2008. Also found guilty in this case was the head of the Chelyabinsk Oblast FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] Administration, Vladimir Zhidkov, who tried to cover up the crime. True, he was given probation.

Agora legal experts worked at the trials in the Bolotnaya case and represented the interests of members of Pussy Riot, the artist Petr Pavlensky, who was arrested for setting fire to the door of the FSB [Federal Security Service] building at Lubyanka, and the videoblogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was hunting Pokemons in a church.

By early 2021, there were 50 legal experts and lawyers working for Agora on more than 300 cases from almost all over Russia.

What made the association special, too, was that it came out of the regions. Its founders were human rights organizations from Tatarstan, Chuvashia, and Chita, and its headquarters was located in Kazan.

In September 2022, Agora began to render legal aid to men subject to mobilization. This included releasing a Telegram-bot.

The General Prosecutor’s Office puts special emphasis on the fact that Agora is rendering legal aid to oppositionists and is shedding light on violations of Russian citizens’ rights and freedoms. Agora’s recognition as an “undesirable organization” is yet another blow to human rights in Russia… Now the very fact of defending such people in court can itself be a crime.


The persecution of Agora began back in 2014, when the Justice Ministry added it to the list of NGOs “carrying out the functions of foreign agents.”

In March 2023, the association’s head, Pavel Chikov, was added to the list of “foreign agents.” The Justice Ministry accused him of “spreading inaccurate information” about decisions taken by the regime.

Agora is outlawed

The status of “undesirable organization” will result for Agora in any interaction with it being outlawed. From now on, a donation, a repost, or participation in human rights activity under the association’s aegis could be grounds for bringing criminal or administrative charges. So believes legal expert Anastasia Burakova of the Media Safety Academy.

The prohibitions’ formulations are very nonspecific, which allows the security agencies to apply them arbitrarily depending on the ‘order’ or the desire to curry favour.

Anastasia Burakova of the Media Safety Academy

Now Agora’s associates cannot participate in trials as lawyers. Moreover, the recognition of the organization as “undesirable” subjects them to the risk of criminal prosecution. The Criminal Code provides for four to six years’ imprisonment for working in such a structure,.

Anastasia Burakova emphasizes that this is all just one of the successive stages of pressure on the structures of civil society that began a long time ago and picked up strength in 2021.

Right now this trend is continuing, and everything that is not under the Kremlin’s control and does not share the militarist agenda is being pushed out of the country through a wide variety of repressive laws, including the legislation on ‘undesirable’ organizations.

Anastasia Burakova of the Media Safety Academy.

The law prohibits undesirable organizations from creating structural subdivisions and engaging in any activity whatsoever on the territory of the Russian Federation. Moreover, ordinary citizens are prohibited from collaborating with them and disseminating their informational materials.

Furthermore, ordinary citizens are forbidden to cooperate with them and distribute their publications.

To be honest, it was quite expected, as was the designation of Pavel Chikov as a foreign agent. This is all very sad and scary, because Agora does a great job for those whom the system represses, all credit to them. Unfortunately history is repeating itself and once again Russia’s best people are being declared enemies of the people. It’s an awful time! Terrible!

shared with NeMoskva by the mother of a student whom Agora’s lawyer saved from criminal prosecution several years ago

“Legal aid is undesirable. So what about medical care?”

Social media users call the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office “dancing on the grave of Russian justice”.

Many, moreover, are outraged by the prosecutors’ reasons for giving Agora the status of an undesirable organization. These include providing legal assistance to opposition activists and reporting on the infringement of rights and freedoms.

Anyone providing legal assistance to dissenters can now be outlawed.

Nikolai Podosokorsky wrote on Twitter.

Opposition members shouldn’t be provided with legal assistance. So what about medical care? Is everyone entitled to protection by the fire brigade if a fire breaks out, or only those who have been questioned about their political position?

Political analyst Ekaterina Shulman

There’s no need to catch murderers and rapists, they all have medals for bravery and walk our streets; we should fight human rights activists.

Georgy Chentemirov, journalist, foreign agent

The recognition of Agora as an undesirable organisation is seen as payback for telling people about their rights and saving them from the clutches of the state.

In a totalitarian country, there is no such thing as a free legal profession, – It is only natural that after dealing with politicians and activists, the authorities have turned on human rights defenders and lawyers.

Facebook user Yana Antonova

Agora united lawyers who were defending human rights, fighting torture and obtaining medical assistance for convicts, untangling complicated political cases and helping those whom no one wanted to help. Another shameful decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office which seems to be sending a message to all of us that protection of human rights is an undesirable activity on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Sergei Babinets, head of the Team against Torture

Citizens’ rights and freedoms are regularly violated in Russia. Freedom of thought and expression, assembly and association and other inalienable human rights are effectively abolished in the country and civil society faces widespread and violent repression. The designation of an independent association of human rights defenders as an “undesirable organisation” is yet another example of this repression. It is not a crime to provide legal assistance and report on human rights violations by the Putin regime. It is the regime itself and its actions that are criminal.

Vesna Movement

Translated by Marian Schwartz and Simon Cosgrove

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